Adjusting Armrests on Your Office Chair

Office chair with arm rests.
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Walk into any office supply store and you’ll likely find that only a few of the chairs on the sales floor come with arm rests that adjust. Most have non-adjustable arm rests or no armrests at all. Of the chairs with adjustments, almost all have a height adjustment only. Chairs with width and pivot adjustments generally have to be ordered.

But this doesn’t mean that width and pivot adjustments wouldn’t help keep neck pain away.

Before you put money down on an office chair, do your neck, shoulder, arm and hand a favor and understand all the adjustments and how to operate them — including armrest adjustments. By doing so, you'll be in a position operate a fancy chair if you happen to have one, or if your work or budget allows, to make a smart purchase that will help you avoid pain.

Here is a guide to armrest adjustments that come with some ergonomic chairs:

Arm Rest Height

Height is the most common armrest adjustment. It's a very useful adjustment — getting armrests at a level that fits you may help avoid tension and pain in shoulder muscles such as the trapezius and levator scapula.

There are a couple of designs for arm rest height; they are the button and the dial (or knob) type. Fortunately, both types are easy to work, to the point of being self-explanatory. All you need to do is spend just a couple of minutes exploring how they work and trying several levels until your arms feel well-supported.

The following resources may help you:

Arm Rest Width

Along with contributing to good body alignment, adjusting the width of your arm rests may help relax the muscles in your shoulders, neck, arms, and hands.

To achieve a good width for you, adjust the armrests so that your elbows are directly under your shoulders.


Not all office chairs have the width adjustment, though. And when they do, it will likely require use of a screwdriver and some patience. Set the width when you first assemble the chair.

Arm Rest Pivot

Pivoting armrests, which means they turn in and out, is another feature that can help you identify the most comfortable position for your shoulders and neck. This is especially true if you are prone to kyphosis.

Kyphosis is a postural condition in which your upper back rounds forward. If you have it, most likely your shoulders round forward, too. Using the pivot feature may help you stretch the pec muscles in front and contract the rhomboids in back, which are exercises that are usually given to office workers, anyway. This is one corrective exercise strategy a physical therapist might suggest for reversing kyphosis. So, why not let your office chair help you?

Non-Adjustable Armrests and the Armless Chair

Most office chairs sold at chain stores are either armless or have non-adjustable arm rests. If you decide on non-adjustable arm rests, be sure they fit your frame.

To do so, sit in the chair and put your forearms on the supports and see how it feels to your neck and shoulders. Compare a few chairs.

If the armrests are too low, you may be able to add some foam to raise the height. (Just duct-tape it on.)

Task chairs are often armless. Armless chairs may allow you to move with a greater comfort level. But many people need the support an arm rest gives in order to avoid fatiguing the shoulders, back, and neck.

A Word About Office Injuries

Believe it or not, you can get (which, in many cases, based on day in and day out repetitive movements and postures, equates to developing) an injury merely from doing your computer job. While low back injuries are more common overall in the population, injuries to the upper extremity, i.e., your hand, wrist, elbow and/or shoulder) occur most frequently in offices.

The sad fact is, though, much less is known about upper body and upper extremity injuries than about low back pain.

But one thing is for sure: If you work all day with your neck, shoulder, and arm in an awkward position (as many people do because, to a great extent, it's the nature of the work,) you'll likely develop excess muscle tension and joint strain, conditions which almost always underlie or contribute to musculoskeletal injuries.

Armrests can help take the load off your shoulders, which will likely relieve strain and tension.


Ming, Z. et. al., Neck and Shoulder Pain Related to Computer Use. Pathophysiology. July 2004. 

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